Money Matters: Managing a Loved One’s Financial Affairs

by Chris Bjorklund
If you have an aging loved one in your life, make sure you’re prepared to help them maintain their physical and financial well-being. Photo: Chris Bjorklund (2016)

If you have an aging loved one in your life, make sure you’re prepared to help them maintain their physical and financial well-being. Photo: Chris Bjorklund (2016)

My brothers and I are fortunate to still have our 95-year-old mother in our lives, but we do have a lot of responsibility for her physical and financial well-being. We’ve helped her with estate planning, medical directives and investments, and we manage her bills, doctors’ appointments, medications, and caregivers. My older brother, a certified public accountant, has power of attorney. Like most families, we have a lot going on and it can be overwhelming at times.

Despite our collective efforts to keep things organized and do advance planning, we’ve had some glitches. No one can find her safety deposit box key, so we haven’t inventoried what’s in there. My mother’s important papers (life insurance policy, funeral home and cemetery contracts) are in several different places due to her many moves. Medical records are difficult to compile due to multiple hospitalizations and surgeries over the past five years. She can’t remember some of her past doctors’ names or medication allergies.

The latest wrinkle involved her credit card. She keeps it on hand for taxis, and family members use it to buy her personal items. Most stores don’t notice that it has her name on it, not mine or my brothers’. Recently, when my brother charged items at a local drugstore, the cashier reported it to the credit card company because she noticed a man using a card with a woman’s name on it. Fraud was suspected and the account was shut down, which was certainly the right thing to do.

Next, the credit card company began investigating the “fraud” by calling my mom. First, this upset her. Second, she couldn’t hear what they were saying on the phone due to hearing loss. Third, she couldn’t confirm her card number because my brother still had her card. And the worst part was they wouldn’t talk to my younger brother or me about the matter (I only wanted them to stop calling her) because we weren’t authorized on the account. Meanwhile, they kept calling my mom repeating the same questions. My brother with power of attorney was asked to fax in proof, but he no longer had a fax machine, so this went on all day. Finally, my younger brother was able to get on the phone with my mom by his side and sort everything out with a supervisor. The account was re-opened and all of our names were added as authorized users.

We got into this mess because we hadn’t set things up properly once we took over her finances. All this aggravation could have been avoided. We should have had cards issued in our own names and then linked them to my mom’s account. If you need help with this, simply talk to the bank that issued the credit card and they’ll get you the right setup.

If you have aging loved ones in your life, you should think about preparing for future changes in mental and physical health before you’re in an emergency situation. Unfortunate things happen, but the more prepared you are, the easier things will be for the entire family. I’ve listed a few useful resources to get you started:

  1. Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To, Melanie Cullen and Shae Irving, J.D., Nolo Press
  2. How to Care for Aging Parents, 3rd Edition: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing and Emotional Issues, Virginia Morris, Workman Publishing Company
  3. Hospice by the Bay Estate Planning Organizer
  4. Estate Documents Organizer, Julie Jones